Friday, 4 July 2014

The Friday Video

Ever felt like you were being watched by someone or something? This Friday's Video is centred on that theme....

Researchers set up camera.

Kitty discovers camera.

The cat is a Pallas Cat, a wild feline that lives in Central Asia.

Happy Independence Day!

So today is the 4th July! American Independence Day! The 4th July is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. This is an interesting day amongst my circle of family and friends since I am married to a British royalist and I am the child of American republicans who adopted Britain as their home about 20 years ago. Personally I don't believe in empires, so hey, I will celebrate the independence of a nation escaping from the clutches of another one, situated across a giant ocean. Plus it means we get to eat hot-dogs and watch fireworks on the internet. On the other hand I have not in recent years been particularly impressed with America's foreign policy or military decisions so I am not sure I want to applaud the US' day of self-congratulating. And the American idea of 'freedom' does not sit all that well with me either, since essentially, I am really a socialist and believe in such schemes as higher taxation, state-funded healthcare and state-subsidised higher education and state-run transport. So perhaps I should shun the idea of celebrating American values. I supposed I have to wonder what the Founding Fathers would think of today's America. If the country turned out how they would have liked it to?

My facebook feed this morning is dominated by friends one either side of the great pond. British people jokingly put up photos of the British Queen dismissing the US and Americans post memes of the American Bald Eagle smugly declaring his freedom. All of it is very good natured. Even the Welsh tourist board has wished Americans everywhere a happy independence day mentioning:

Did you know one of the memorial stones on the Washington Monument is inscribed with the Welsh words:

“Fy iaith, fy ngwlad, fy neghenedl, Cymru – Cymru am byth”
“My language, my land, my nation, Wales – Wales forever.”

It is said that 20 per cent of the Pilgrim Fathers of America were Welsh and that almost 50 per cent of the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence were also Welsh or of Welsh heritage. And right there is the reason why I should celebrate Independence Day. Because no matter what state the US is in today, it is still one of the largest countries in the world to embrace other cultures and rejoice in the diversity of its own population. Many national monuments or works of art in the US were built to showcase the mixed heritage of the nation. Just think of the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants entering the US from Ellis Island in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The statue, built and designed by the French, is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence. A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue is an icon of freedom and of the United States. In 1984, the statue was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO "Statement of Significance" describes the statue as a "masterpiece of the human spirit" that "endures as a highly potent symbol—inspiring contemplation, debate and protest—of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity." The Declaration of Independence itself contains one of the most fantastic sentences ever written in human history: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And if you ask me, aside from just an excuse to eat a large hot-dog and blue, white and red food colouring in a cupcake, an ideal such as all men (and women!) being created equal  is a great reason to celebrate Independence Day. Because the founding principles of the United States of America are still important and relevant today. If only the US government could adopt free healthcare for all and pass stricter gun control laws....sigh...

Anyway, let's lighten up the tone of this post with a photo of a patriotic hamster:

Enjoy your day Folks!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Mammoth Berry

Long time, No write! And I'm back from outer space and on cyberspace yet again with today's blog entry. I have been very busy recently recovering from a chest infection (bleugh! cough! splutter!) and applying for new jobs. I got an interview recently and after some careful consideration, they gave me the job! So in two weeks I will be going to work near the Strand in Central London for a famous University! I am very excited. I cannot wait to start the new job and go to the free public lectures on campus, peruse the local coffee shops, student library and the comfy staff room. I am hoping that this new position will allow me to have a better/work life balance and give me the opportunity to spend more time amongst like-minded people and perhaps even do a course or two at the surrounding colleges.

It is weird to leave my current job though. After three and half years, I only have to give a month's notice and then, bam! I am gone! So I am trying to condense a whole 3 years worth of knowledge into a simple 1 month handover for my colleagues. My whole team are acting quite nonchalant about me leaving, but I do detect some hints of panic under their calm exteriors. I do a lot of work for my team and the students and I am sure I am just a small replaceable cog in a big machine, but in my time at the Business School I do think I have made my mark as a valuable employee. The problem with many workplaces is that they don't make enough of an effort to keep their lower level staff and so they have problems with staff retention and high employee turnover. Sure you can hire another Administrator/Secretary/Receptionist any time you need to. It is an employer's market, there are so many young people out there wanting and needing jobs. But it takes time and money to recruit, hire and train new staff and in the meantime the current staff are run ragged by doing extra work and cover other people's jobs. I have seen it time and time again. Companies losing people who are especially good at their jobs because employers refuse to invest enough in their staff.

I learned a lot working for the Business School. I appreciate the opportunities that were given to me here and the friends I have made, but so much of my life, dreams and ambitions were put on the back-burner in favour of work. I had complained about the lack of work/life balance to my current employers many times and my concerns had always fallen on deaf ears. After one particularly bad month this Spring, I decided it was time for me to move on. And so moving on is what I am doing. I am eternally grateful to my family and friends for supporting me during this time and giving me the confidence boost I needed to believe in myself. I always felt I never fitted in at work (not in all my previous jobs, but I felt ill at ease in this one particularly) and sometimes when you don't feel as if you fit with the culture around you, you can lose confidence in yourself. 
So I'm off! And I am already making a set of new resolutions for my new workplace and all sorts of plans of how I want to develop my hobbies outside of work! 

Anyway, other things that have happened in my life recently are.....
  • Today I ate a Pimm's Trifle. This may not sound like news. But it is. Big news. The catering company on campus had a small food extravaganza based on the theme of Wimbledon. I have no interest in Wimbledon. I enjoy playing the occasional bout of tennis, but I have never really enjoyed watching it on TV, so the tournament holds little excitement for me (sorry Dad!). But food? Now FOOD is something I can get excited about! Photographing food? I get even more excited! Check out the photos below:
Check out that smoked Salmon!

The catering staff very kindly sold me a Pimm's Trifle (I love a bit of custard, cream, cake sponge and jelly) and gave me three huge strawberries. I have never seen strawberries so big!

Of course I immediately took loads of photos with the strawberry in my hand to show the size of the summer strawberries. For scientific reasons of course. To give perspective.

See the size of this thing? I could practically use it as a weapon and throw it at people. Not that I did that. This beast of a fruit went straight in my belly.
  • Anyway, moving husband and I have decided to get a cat. Not any time soon (our landlord won't let us and we might want to have kids in the next few years before we adopt an animal), but having both been raised with pets, we mutually decided recently that one day we will own a cat. I have yet to persuade my husband to agree to a little dog, but I have faith that if I persevere over many years, I will eventually get him to agree to a little mongrel. I will name the cat Athena and the dog Totoro. I would just love to return home from a long hard day's work, put my feet up with a cup of tea and stroke a pet that comes to sit on my lap. Someday, someday.....

  • I have started listening to whole load of new music on my commute to and from work. My favourite at the moment is Ben Howard. I especially like his song 'Old Pine.' He sings about camping in the summer and the trees and I find it really peaceful when I am squished on a crowded tube train or answering emails in the office.

  • So while I listen to Ben Howard on the train, I am also currently reading a really great book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

Gretchen Rubin is a writer living in New York who decided to do an experiment of trying to improve/increase her happiness levels over the course of a year. I have only read the first two chapters but I have already got lots of ideas on how I can make myself happier. She makes it clear that the project was not about making her go from unhappy to happy. She is already relatively happy in life, the point of the experiment is to boost her happiness so that she hits the top of her range of contentedness. I especially like the idea of this theory. I want to be as content as I can be in life!
  • Oh and last but not least. I recently celebrated my birthday. I turned the ripe old age of 31. No wait, I mean I celebrated turning 25 again for the 6th year in a row! My birthday was an interesting experience but that is a post for another day.....